Nasas ambitious plan to save earth from a supervolcano

by ChristianKl1 min read24th Aug 201725 comments

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I was writing about exactly this, on my blog back in 2013

https://protokol2020.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/handling-yellowstone/

Vast new deposits of lithium could change the global politics of battery production.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/will-supervolcanoes-help-power-our-future-180964635/?no-ist

" “The irony of all of this is, the hectorite is being mined right now, but it’s not actually being mined for the lithium. What they’re mining it for is the hectorite as a clay, and hectorite clays have unusual properties in that they are stable to very high temperatures. So what the deposit at King’s Valley is being mined for now is to make specialty drilling muds that are used in the natural gas and oil industry.”

I can't find original NASA report - does anybody have a link? Anyway, seems like dangerous project where small probability of large failure overcast benefits of postponing eruption.

From the BBC article:

Following an article we published about supervolcanoes last month, a group of Nasa researchers got in touch to share a report previously unseen outside the space agency about the threat

Unfortunately, I don't think the original NASA report is publically available at this moment in time.

The deep rocks have been (inadvertently) cooled down before. Geothermal power plants regularly go useless after a few decades of operation. We actually can cool down Earth's interior using the cold space around our planet.

It's quite clear that we can cool down deep rocks. The problem is that the pressure relations inside the deep rocks change and this can lead to earthquakes and there's some chance that it will trigger the eruption.

It's important to have a good model of what will happen before starting the procedure.

I think it will be safer (when we master nanotech) to dig large and extremely long horizontal tube from the volcano and into the ocean, which will be attached to the magmatic chamber from the side. The tube will not destabilize the cover of the magmatic chamber and would allow us to controllably release energy from the chamber with many valves on the way. Even if we lost control over the tube, the energy will go into the ocean and partly dissolve in the water (which surely has its own risks, but will not cover global sunlight). Probably a drawing is needed to present the idea.

I would call it supervolcanic subway.

Denkenberger has an article under review with around 40 ways to mitigate the supervolcanic eruption.

Here is a variant idea (not sure if feasible): Set up a organization with the mission statement of building this geothermal plant by 2150 CE. It can start very low-staff, invest some money, and invest in relevant research. Then, after spending 100 or so years investigating the risks, it can start digging.

Motivation: We can spare 100 years when it comes to geology. We could approach this with next century's science and technology.

This is assuming the danger from unknown unknowns is large. Speaking as a non-expert, i would guess that it is.

Both the chance that the the supervulcano erupts within the next 100 years and the chance that it's more likely to errupt with this project in place are known unknowns.

Why do you assume the danger from unknown unknowns is large?

Well, I think there's probably some danger. We know that injecting water back deeply into the earth after fracking can cause earthquakes. There's also evidence that some geothermal projects like in Iceland are also causing earthquakes.

If minor local earthquakes are the biggest danger it's still likely to be worthwhile, but there may be other, more serious risks as well.

They are doing a test run of this on one of the Pacific NW volcanoes, as a geothermal pilot plant.

How do you know that? Environmentalists told you?

There has been a lot of rigorous scientific research on the problem of injection induced earthquakes. Here's a list of some papers published on the subject by the USGS (United States Geological Survey).

https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/induced/references.php

You can insert a nuclear bomb deep down and detonate. This is one way, by which you provide the energy for ground shaking.

But the required energy may be already there and all you have to do is to wait.

You may also trigger it earlier by a smaller detonation.

You can jump one meter high and cause an earthquake magnitude 0.5 on the European scale. Which is illegal in England, if you frack for oil. You can cause much larger quakes when cooking your meal, at least for now.

PR science is quite Green and out of control.

It's not the fracking itself that causes the earthquakes. It's the act of pumping the contaminated water back underground, which changes the balance underground and allows tectonic plates to move in ways they otherwise would not be able to. You could do fracking without that last step, but then you'd have to find something else to do with the water.

And yes, the energy was already underground, but that doesn't actually mean that the earthquake was going to happen anyway. The dynamics are apparently more complicated then that. But there have been a dramatic increase in the number of earthquakes in areas with fracking, many of which had never really had earthquakes before, and a lot of those earthquakes are serious enough to cause property damage.

Nothing to do with "PR science" at all. It's just science. The results are what the results are. You can't just dismiss scientific evidence for political reasons.

You can't just dismiss scientific evidence for political reasons.

I will cease to be so skeptical about the earthquake science when those earthquakes which do happen all the time will be predicted more. Until then, it's not a science yet. It's more a handwaving. In this particular case politically correct handwaving.

(shrug) They have models which predict that the frequency of the earthquakes will increase by a certain degree, and those models have proved extremly accurate so far. They can't predict single earthquakes, no, nobody can do that, but that doesn't mean they don't have any understanding of what's going on here.

No prediction, no science.

A probabilistic prediction is still a prediction. Or do you think nuclear physics isn't science either?

What probabilistic predictions do we have for the so called "Climate Change" or "to frack is to die" Green "science"?

We have "no doubt, the science is settled".

The Green "science" is quite a big part of our lives. Unfortunately.

Appart from this, we have problems with fats and sugars in medicine and many things elsewhere.

Science might be the best we have, but it isn't perfect, at all.

What probabilistic predictions do we have for the so called "Climate Change" or "to frack is to die" Green "science"?

There were models that have predicted how much the Earth would be expected to heat up given certain amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere from the early 1990's, and they have been pretty accurate predictions.

Anyway, I'm not opposed to fracking, at least not in the short run. It's still probably less harmful to people's health and to the environment then coal is, even with the earthquakes. But I don't think there's any doubt it causes small earthquakes; if nothing else, you can just observe the fact that areas which do a lot of fracking now have lots of small earthquakes in places that simply never have before. That's just a fact, an emperical observation.

If you want to come up with an alternate scientific hypothesis to explain that fact, feel free, but I don't see how you can deny the accuracy of the observation.

There were models that have predicted how much the Earth would be expected to heat up given certain amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere from the early 1990's, and they have been pretty accurate predictions.

Really?

If you want to come up with an alternate scientific hypothesis to explain that fact

I don't want to. I even don't know if it is a fact or not. I don't see any raw data about this anywhere. I will most certainly not bother with that. Because if something is presented without solid data, it can be simply dismissed.

Uh. About 10 posts ago I linked you to a long list of published scientific papers, many of which you can access online. If you wanted to see the data, you easily could have.

Just because the magnitude of the bad outcome is enormous. Caution seems prudent for such a slow, dangerous process.